Have Authorblogs Become Corporate Shills?

By Neal Comment

You’ll recall the news earlier this week of Amazon’s author blogs. They have not, it seems, been met with universal enthusiasm. Edward Champion compares the early online efforts of writers like Meg Wolitzer to “Shirley Maclaine talking with the dead during an infomercial.” Champion goes on to suggest that no blog published under the aegis of a “monolithic sponsor” like Amazon will be able to match the spirited authenticity of independent author websites. “When the overwhelming reason to blog is to move product,” he warns, “surely the motivation behind the posts will be moulded to ensure presence and survival.”

If that were the case, one might argue, somebody might have made sure that when Wolitzer recommended “three great books,” there were links to buy those books from Amazon. (Of course, now that I’ve pointed it out, I wouldn’t be surprised if they go ‘fix’ that…) But there’s a broader issue to be considered here; what we’re dealing with, of course, is the perennial “sell out” label. At which point, we could ask: How corporate is too corporate? If Wolitzer “is” a “sellout” for blogging on Amazon, how should we judge Uzodinma Iweala for contributing an essay to Powell’s? What if the Lower East Side vego-feminists at Bluestockings started running original content from authors on their site? For that matter, M.J. Rose’s Typepad blog is clearly promotional in its intent; is it too “professional” to be “authentic”?

In one sense, this is pretty silly: Nobody’s suggesting that Wolitzer’s a sellout for publishing with Scribner rather than iUniverse, so what does it matter what server hosts her blog? If the individual blog does or doesn’t satisfy, go ahead and say so—but let’s not condemn it automatically or hold it up as some sort of “type.”

(These questions hold particular significance, I admit, not only because of my situation here at Galleycat, where you’ll see plenty of mediabistro.com ads, but because I also publish original content from guest writers alongside ads on my own blog, Beatrice. This isn’t necessarily the place for extended introspection on the subject, and the item’s running long already, but the issue came up earlier this year when I spoke to the Village Voice.)